The New York Times
May 7, 2004

Picasso Painting Sets Record for Auction Sale


Picasso certainly is the flavor of the week," said Nancy Whyte, a private dealer, as the gavel fell on the final lot of Sotheby's sale of Impressionist and modern art last night.

Still reeling from the sale of a 1905 Picasso for a record-breaking $104.1 million on Wednesday night, Sotheby's was testing slightly more modest market levels with an auction of Impressionist and modern art from various owners. The sale totaled $96 million, just shy of its high estimate, $99 million. Of the 52 works, only 10 went unsold. Picassos from various periods were stars, and many brought particularly strong prices.

"It's a brand name," Ms. Whyte said. Tobias Meyer, director of Sotheby's contemporary-art department and the evening's auctioneer, said: "Consciously or subconsciously, something is going on with the Picasso market. Last night's record price definitely had an effect on tonight's sale."

Despite the Picasso fever, the evening's top seller was one of Monet's paintings of water lilies, this one executed from 1917 to 1919. It is large - 39 3/8 inches by 79 inches - and like many other late "Water Lilies" canvases, it is unsigned but stamped with the artist's signature by his son Michel. Mr. Meyer took the offers slowly and steadily as three telephone bidders went after the painting. It finally sold to an unidentified telephone bidder for $16.8 million, far above its $12 million high estimate.

(Final prices include Sotheby's commission: 20 percent of the first $100,000 and 12 percent of the rest. Estimates do not reflect commissions.)

The Monet had Hollywood cachet: it was being sold from the collection of the movie producer Ray Stark and his wife, Fran, and had hung in their West Hollywood home until his death in January. (Mrs. Stark died in 1992.) It was not the only work owned by the Starks that brought a high price. Braque's "Woman With Guitar" (1931), one of the artist's Cubist interpretations of a classical subject, sold to a telephone bidder for $2.1 million. It had been estimated at $1.5 million to $2 million.

Five telephone bidders vied for Picasso's "Rescue," a colorful 1932 scene of bathers on the beach executed one summer at Boisgeloup, France, brought the evening's second-highest price. Sotheby's estimated the painting would fetch $10 million to $15 million; it brought $14.7 million.

Late Picassos have been quite the rage recently, as was certainly the case last night. Five serious bidders wanted to take home "Seated Nude" (1959), a large sculptural image of a woman. Doris Ammann, a Zurich dealer, bought the painting for $11.7 million, nearly three times its $4 million high estimate.

Among themes in his work, Picasso was as fascinated with artists as he was with women. "The Painter in a Hat" (1965), a 1965 image of an artist holding a brush, brought $1.1 million, after an estimate of $750,000 to $1 million. The buyer was David Nahmad, the Manhattan dealer.

Five bidders wanted Picasso's 1947 "Still Life With Coffeepot," a somber painting of a simple kitchen table with a white vase and a blue coffeepot set against a bare wall. Five people bid on the painting, which Mr. Nahmad bought for $2.5 million, above its $2 million high estimate.

One of the evening's gems, Gris's "Marble Table," was among five works being sold by Ruth G. Hardman, a businesswoman and philanthropist who died in January. A still life of a marble console with a book on it and a mirror hanging above, the work is unusual because it incorporates materials like a piece of a mirror in the composition. Sotheby's thought it would sell for $4.5 million to $6.5 million. Four bidders went for the painting, which sold for $7.4 million.

Another painting from the Hardman estate, Modigliani's "Young Girl With a Collar" (1915), became one of the evening's casualties. When Mr. Meyer saw the salesroom go dead, he stopped trying at $1.2 million, under its $1.5 million low estimate.

When a classic Impressionist painting comes up for sale, collectors jump. Last night the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford and the heirs of an unidentified patron, who left half the painting to them and half to the museum, were selling Renoir's "Young Girls With Lilacs." Four bidders wanted the work, which sold to a telephone bidder for $5.4 million, in the middle of its estimate, $4 million to $6 million. The painting, from about 1890, depicts Julie Manet, the 12-year-old daughter of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet, brother of the artist Édouard Manet, wearing an elaborate hat festooned with roses as her cousin Paulette Gobillard, in her early teens, handles a bouquet of blooming lilacs.

A Matisse cutout from 1949-50, "The Four Rosettes With Blue Motifs," brought $2.5 million, its low estimate. David C. Norman, a co-director of Sotheby's Impressionist and modern art department, took the winning bid for a client who was bidding by telephone.

A record was set for Balthus by "Golden Afternoon" (1957), a scene of a young woman napping on a boldly patterned sofa in front of an open window. The painting brought $3.8 million, just under its low estimate of $4 million. The price may have been less than Sotheby's had hoped, but the painting was not fresh to the market. Before the sale, several dealers said it had been shopped around before being consigned to Sotheby's.

After the sale, Sotheby's computers tallied up its day and evening sales this week at $314.8 million, the highest figure the auction house has seen since 1990. The strong results surprised even Sotheby's experts. "All the major lots with wall power did extremely well," Mr. Norman said. "This is a market with depth and breadth."

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